Debating India


Feel good and a fear

Friday 12 March 2004, by VENKATESAN*V.

The National Democratic Alliance government, it seems, is slowly becoming aware of the risks involved in overdoing the `feel good’ campaign.

in New Delhi

DEPUTY Prime Minister L.K. Advani recently boasted that he was the author of "feel good", the current election slogan of the Bharatiya Janata Party led-National Democratic Alliance (NDA). He claimed he borrowed the phrase from a similar-sounding catchword used by a prominent business house on one of its advertisement hoardings in Mumbai. However, even as the BJP and its allies begin to employ the "feel good" slogan as Indira Gandhi used "garibi hatao", which brought her huge electoral dividends in 1971, Advani himself appears to have realised the perils of over-dependence on the slogan, which many analysts have exposed for its hollowness.

Addressing a group of farmers from Haryana at his residence in New Delhi on February 19, Advani tempered the hype saying, "We feel the feel good factor will really be so when the farming community says so". He went on: "Today they are not saying so, although various sections of society are saying it."

Advani’s decision to keep a tactical distance from the so-called societal sentiment of "feel good" is understandable, given the widespread misgivings about whether such a feeling indeed exists or is just a creation for the government’s unabashed propaganda about its "achievements".

Asked to comment on the debunking of the government’s many claims relating to the India Shining campaign, Jagdish Shettigar, a member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council and a former member of the BJP’s economic cell, told Frontline that the government did not claim that poverty or unemployment had been eradicated. "Through the campaign, we are only saying that India has started moving in the right direction," he said. The basic purpose of the campaign, he claimed, was to communicate the purpose of economic reforms and to inspire people to join the reforms process.

Shettigar said the government was aware that one-fourth of the population lived below the poverty line and that there was unemployment to some extent, but it did not mean development had not taken place all these five years. When pointed out that the critics of the campaign questioned the correctness of the government’s statistics and the methodology adopted for the claims made on the development front, Shettigar denied that the methodology had been changed or diluted to suit the government’s purpose.

He agreed that the claims of progress were more evident in urban areas than in rural areas. But it did not mean that rural areas had not benefited, he said. He pointed to the studies carried out by the National Commission for Applied Economic Research, a non-governmental institution, to drive home the point that the demand for consumer goods had gone up in rural areas, which meant that the rural people’s purchasing power had gone up. He blamed the State governments whose performance in the delivery system was "not up to the mark" for the glaring rural-urban divide. The Public Distribution System, for example, was functioning well in Kerala as compared to Bihar, which State, he alleged, was not able to even identify the beneficiaries of the scheme. Some State governments had diverted Central funds meant for the rural roads project, he alleged.

It is conceded in official circles that in the areas of agriculture and social development, the government has made only a beginning in terms of launching a scheme or fixing targets, and that much more needs to be done to show any meaningful results. Then what is the rationale for the "India on the Move" campaign? The spin masters in the government hope to equate the current campaign with the Mera Bharat Mahan (My India is Great) slogan of the previous Congress(I) regime. The idea was to create positive thinking among the people about the expansion of the market economy, Shettigar said, adding that like the `Vande Mataram’ programme, the campaign should continue irrespective of which party was elected to power.

The India Shining campaign, if the BJP’s insiders are to be believed, is a response to the criticism within the party against the government’s functioning and the absence of effective communication to publicise its so-called performance. Shettigar conceded that the "feel good" campaign was like offering the moon to the people below the poverty line.

Shettigar said that if the India Shining campaign was only rhetoric, the people were bound to reject it, thus admitting that it was basically an electoral exercise and that the outcome of the 2004 general elections would determine the success of the campaignIt is clear, however, that the BJP and the government have so far not shown any interest in rebutting convincingly the serious misgivings about the tall claims made in the campaign.

See online : Frontline


in Frontline, volume 21 - Issue 05, February 28 - March 12, 2004.

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